Frequently Asked Questions

John Levan, Guitar Services Workshop proprietor

Below are many of the frequently asked questions that we receive from our readers. I hope you find them fun and informative.

Question: I recently purchased a Takamine 2003 Special Edition and I'm currently using Elixir medium gauge coated strings. The strings feel great and sound great unplugged, but don't sound as good as I expected plugged-in. To your knowledge is this a common problem with coated strings? Any advice?

Answer: Most guitars sound different plugged in than they do acoustically. Elixir strings tend to soften the sound of most guitars. That could be contributing to the change you hear.

Question: I recently bought a new Dean QSC {its well over a year old}. I love the rich tone that it delivers. My question is, the neck seems to be very inconsistent. I have a humidifier in it but its hard to control. The action seems to differ allot. I would like to know how do I adjust my neck? I know that I can adjust the truss rod, but I'M afraid that I might make it too loose or too tight causing warping problems. Can you help?

Answer: The best way to control a neck is to keep the humidity consistent. The best way to do that is to have both a humidifier and a hygrometer (humidity Sensor). That way you can really know if the humidity is too low or too high. Planet Waves makes the best combo kit on the market. As far as adjusting your neck, you need to be properly trained before you start tweaking on it. A broken or stripped truss rod is very expensive to fix. I teach a Guitar Setup and Repair Workshop every month at my shop in Nashville, TN. Or, you can buy my Guitar Setup DVD this Fall or wait for my book (Guitar Care, Setup & Repair) this winter. You never want to attempt a repair without the proper training, unless you are practicing on firewood.

Question: I have a 1989 Gibson L-4 and a 1947 Gibson L-7. Curiously I have the same problem with both these instruments. Once I have tuned the bass E string by playing the harmonic and the note at the 12th fret, it results rather raised when played open or at the 5th fret, or when I play the harmonic at the 5th fret to confront it with the harmonic on the A string at the 7th fret. So, I have to flatten the bass E string, but of course many notes played on it will result flattened, especially the notes from the 6th fret onwards. Have you any advice for me?

Answer: This is a common problem with most guitars. I generally will temper tune such a guitar. There are several ways to temper the intonation to make it play more in tune with itself and other instruments. Since no guitar can play perfectly in tune, I start by evaluating the location of the string nut, frets and the bridge saddles. Then, I correct the nut placement and the saddle placement to balance the intonation. It is a very complicated procedure that requires more math that labor. As for a quick fix, you are doing the right thing by adjusting the tuning. You may also want to try intonating the 6th string slightly flat to balance it with the rest. Good luck!

Question: I've recently been educating myself about intonation and how to correct it. This has made me curious about the characteristics of the strings themselves. Pressing the string to the fretboard increases its tension,and I'm wondering by how much? The tension of a stretched spring is proportional to how far it's been stretched (approximately). Does a guitar string behave like a spring? I'm just curious.

Answer: Great question! One of the biggest challenges I run into as a luthier (Guitar Builder/Repairman) is intonating a guitar for those players who use "the Grip of Death" when playing. This species of player tends to squeeze their strings (as if they where cracking walnuts) and as a result, all of the fretted notes play sharp. This renders intonation as optional and impossible. So to answer your question, the harder you press the string, the greater the tension. The harder you grip, the farther out of tune you play, the more cash you have to spend in the studio and the repair shop. I discuss this problem in my Guitar Care & Maintenance DVD, check it out!

Question: Hi, I'm looking at buying a guitar and I'm looking at a Beaver Creek BCTD195. I can't seem to find any reviews of this model of a guitar, or on the brand itself. I know its distributed by D'Addario, but that's about all. I am a beginner in the guitar world, and didn't know if this was a good guitar to buy. Any information you can give me on Beaver Creek, the model I'm looking at (BCTD195) or the quality of guitar would be greatly appreciated.

Answer: I spoke with my friends at D'Addario Strings, and they haven't heard of it. It may be a guitar manufacturer that uses D'Addario strings. It could be named after a guitar festival in Colorado. That is all I have for now. Good luck.

Question: Are they any real advantages to using coated strings vs. regular strings? They cost a fortune.

Answer: I get this question a lot. Coated strings are great if you fall into a couple of categories:

  1. You have a high acid content in your sweat and burn through strings quickly.
  2. You don't play everyday, only for short periods of time, or you have a huge collection of guitars.
  3. You own a music store and don't have the manpower to restring your inventory every week.

With all strings the more you play, the more the string dents up. You can feel these dents if you run your finger along the underside of the string. These dents cause the strings to rattle, buzz and play out of tune. I have a ton of "tech tips" on string issues in my book "Guitar Care, Setup and Repair" by Mel Bay. My book will be available in January of 2005. To sum things up, coated strings are great for specific situations, but if you play a lot, you are better off with the traditional strings.

Question: I was wondering if I could install D'Addario XLS Stainless Steel Round Wound electric guitar strings on my acoustic guitar.

Answer: You can put stainless strings on an acoustic, however, it will loose a lot of tone and warmth. Something else to think about is the string gauge. If a guitar is setup for light acoustic strings (.012 - .054), light electric strings are much lighter (.010 - .046). The difference in string gauge will greatly effect your action, play ability and intonation. A change in string gauge requires several adjustments to restore the guitar to it's original condition. So to keep yourself from an action train wreck, make sure that you match the string gauge if you decide to convert you acoustic from acoustic to electric strings.

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